Friday, September 30, 2011

The Em-Dash and You

John McIntyre, newspaper copyeditor and proprietor of You Don't Say1 recently had some much needed advice for all of us writing online: Know when to use the em-dash.

"Em-dash" is not, as you may believe, a short-distance foot race of some kind or another. It's the long horizontal mark we use to indicate a parenthetical remark — like this one — in our text. It's also used at times to indicate dialogue:

— You mean like this?

— Yes, exactly.

Note that it is a long dash. It is not the minus-sign we use for compound words (like in "minus-sign"). Why not use the minus-sign? Because the text looks cleaner and more professional, and is easier to read with the wide dash. There really is no reason not to use it. But how do you write it when it doesn't seem to actually be on our keyboards? fear not: it's easy to write. The Wikipedia page has instructions for many systems and programs, so check it out.

Under Linux you press the Compose key, then '---'. "Compose" key? On full-size keyboards it is often the right-hand "Win" key or right-hand Alt, but you can change which key is "Compose" in your keyboard layout settings. I always set Compose to be my Caps Lock key; I never, ever actually need Caps Lock, and hitting it by mistake is annoying, so I much prefer it to work as Compose.

While you're at it, it's time you also started using ellipsis '…' rather than simply write three full stops '...'. Depending on what font you use they may look identical, but trust me, they're not. The true ellipsis is one character while the dots are three. This matters particularly when you use a fixed-width font, such as in text editors or when writing Japanese. You write it by pressing Compose, then '..'.

A couple of other useful Compose characters:

  • Degree symbol '°' as in "His fever was 39.2°": press Compose then 'oo'.

  • Cross product or cross mark '×', as in "1024×768": Compose then 'xx'.

  • Long o 'ō' as when you write long-o Japanese words with alphabet, as in "Ōsaka": press Compose then '_' (that is shift+'-'), then 'o' or 'O'.

  • Copyright symbol '©' and trademark symbol '™', as in "Navelicious© — The Go-to Website™ For Your Bellybutton Needs!": Compose then 'oc', and Compose then 'tm'.

  • In case you have no Swedish vowels in your keyboard, you can still write 'å' 'ä' and 'ö': Compose then 'o' then 'a', and Compose then '"' then 'a' or 'o'.

Those are not the only characters of course, and you have many, many more if you use the "AltGr" key (may be something else on a laptop keyboard), such as '·', '÷', 'µ' and so on. It's worth looking up these key combinations for your keyboard and system; it's surprisingly useful.

And use Em-dash, OK? Give the poor minus-sign a rest.

#1 Sadly, while this is the personal blog of McIntyre it is hosted with his employer The Baltimore Sun, who in turn has decided to lock all its content behind a paywall beginning October 10. Since local news is of no interest for people like me living on a separate continent most readers are faced with the prospect of paying over 8000 yen per year for a single blog. Which, as you can expect, few to no people are ready to do no matter how good the content.

So unfortunately one of my favourite blogs will effectively disappear from the net beginning early next month. Do take the chance to browse through his archives while you have the chance; there's a lot of good stuff there to read.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

History of Violence

I have my annual health check tomorrow morning, followed by a two-day project meeting in Kyoto so I'll be rather busy until the end of the week1. But just so you won't feel a lack of long-winded reading, here is an excellent (and long!) essay by Steven Pinker on A History of Violence.

If you don't have the entire morning to set aside for the essay you can get the gist simply by looking at the collection of graphs scattered throughout the piece. Just be careful that you check the scales and units of measurement. Many graphs are logarithmic; it lets you see variation at both the low and high ends of the range, but it tends to understate the magnitude of the overall change. Also, he frequently plots rates — incidents of violence per 100 000 people — not absolute number of incidents. They reflect your risk of violence, which is probably what you're mostly interested in, but says nothing about the absolute number of events.

Pinker argues, quite persuasively, that levels of violence around the world is at a historical low, no matter of criterion for violence you take, and almost no matter what timeframe. Long time scale or short, we're less violent to each other than ever before. To illustrate, let me show you the data from one of his sources, Manuel Eisner2 about overall level of homicide in Europe from early middle ages to today. Instead of a log plot like Pinker does, let's plot it on a linear scale to clearly see what the overall trend looks like:

Homicide rates in Europe from the 1300's to the 20th century. Rate is in victims per 100 000 incidents, with one data point per century. Data from Eisner (2003).

The data is very sketchy for the distant past of course, but overall the rate of homicide has dropped some 40-fold over time. The risk, today, for us to be killed by somebody else is only a fracťion of the historical average. And Pinker argues that the same thing is happening at shorter timescales as well as longer, and not just for murder but for war deaths, rape, child abuse, racially motivated violence and so on and so on. 

Then why do people feel so unsafe today? And why do Japanese — living in what is arguably one of the least violent societies in history — seem to be at least as afraid of violence as people in far less settled areas? Perhaps people feel unsafe precisely because violence is becoming so rare. As it becomes rarer, each incident becomes more newsworthy, grabs more media attention and focuses peoples minds more on it than before.

It's the same as with car accidents and airplane accidents: You're in much more danger in a car than in an airplane, and there's many, many more deaths from car accidents than plane crashes. But car crashes are so common that they don't get much attention, while the rare airplane accident gets big headlines. We estimate the risk to ourselves by the number of incidents we hear about in the news, not by the number of incidents that actually happen. So, paradoxically, we end up feeling airplanes are less safe than cars, in part because the reality is the opposite.

It's not just the rarity, though. We hear about more violent incidents than before simply because we get much more news about anything than we did before. If a man got beaten and robbed in a bar in Yokohama a century ago it's unlikely anybody in the rest of the country would have heard of it. If it happens today there will be a news item about it in every news outlet in Japan. Robberies where much more commonplace and less newsworthy a century ago, but news coverage at the time was nothing like what we have today.

And the goal posts have moved. We accept much less violence than we used to. Some type of violence that we rightly condemn today — beating your spouse or children for instance — were legal some decades ago; they were approved and even recommended in some cases. We're safer from violence overall, so our tolerance for violence is decreasing in turn.

So, we take acts of violence more seriously than before; we hear about violent crimes from a far larger area than we used to; and the very fact that violence is becoming rarer means each violent act gets more media coverage. These factors all mean that people become more worried about being victims of violence, and believe violence has been increasing, even as the reality is the complete opposite.

#1 If I'm so busy, why do I spend most of my lunch hour writing about this essay rather than hurry along with my project? I do need an occasional break of course; also, for some reason other people's research always seem more interesting to me than my own.

#2 Eisner (2003), "Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime", Crime & Just. 83 (2003) - webpage here, and direct link to the PDF from the author here. It's a very readable paper, even for a complete non-specialist like myself.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

By the way…

The "Google+" post list to the right doesn't work any more. I'll just leave it for now and replace with a better solution later on. Meanwhile, you can head over to my page on Google+ for posts, and perhaps join yourself if you're so inclined.

Disaster Alert

I'm behind at work right now (OK, so when am I not behind?) since I took a vacation just before some project meetings. I have still written not a word about our trip to Sweden; and I have yet to develop the film I shot, nor have I downloaded the pictures from my digital camera. At thid rate you'll probably hear about our late summer trip sometime around Christmas.

But I don't want to leave this blog fallow while I'm busy panicking1. So here is a chilling piece on the environmental risks of pseudoscientific quackery — risks just as real as the quack itself: Homeopathic leak threatens catastrophe.

#1 Will I have good results in time for the meeting? No, not a chance. So why am I even panicking then, when it's doing no good anyhow? Good question.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Standing Desk

I spend a lot of time in front of my computer. A lot of time — there are days when I go from bed directly to my laptop; spend my morning commute, my entire workday, and my evening ride home staring at the same screen; then spend the rest of my evening in front of the machine, with only brief breaks for eating, showers and bathroom.

This is not exactly good for my body, needless to say. Hunching over a laptop hurts my eyes, hurts my back and neck, and ultimately hurts my ability to focus. I often take quick breaks where I walk down the hall and back again to think, have a drink water water and just get out of my chair for a bit. That helps, but it is not quite enough.

This July my back was hurting more than usual so I decided I'd try standing up rather than sitting down. I'd tried to stand and work a few times before but never managed to get comfortable. This time I've figured out how to make it work. Here is my setup:

Standing Desk
Improvised standing desk. Note my cool "Cup Noodle" coffee mug. I'm very proud of it.

I found a couple of cinder blocks in a storage room and added a thrown-away cardboard box on top (I don't have a Sony laptop myself). I now also have a cardboard wedge of sorts under the back of the laptop to tilt the keyboard forward. The mouse pad support is just a collection of suitably thick books from my bookshelf. A bit impractical when I want to look something up in one of them but otherwise nice and stable.

Both the laptop and the mouse are higher up than I first thought they should be. With my previous attempts I had the desktop at waist level, with my arms at a 90 degree angle when typing, but that quickly gave me worse back pain than sitting down. This desktop is much higher, about level with the bottom of my ribcage, and my arms angle upwards to reach the laptop. The mouse is midway between hip and chest.

It makes sense. When your lower arms stick straight out at 90 degrees it puts maximum load on the upper arm and shoulder muscles. Our muscles are much worse at keeping our joints in a midway position than close to either end. Imagine a heavy jar full of water in your hand. imagine holding it in your hand with the upper arm straight down and the lower arm sticking right out in front of you. Now imagine the same thing, but with the lower arm angling upwards, toward your chest. Which one would be easier to hold over time?

With a higher surface your wrists also find support on the front edge of the desk and mouse pad, while they're dangling unsupported in the air with a 90 degree angle. Also, the screen comes up to a comfortable viewing angle. It is important to get the height just right though; I really notice when I need a book in the mouse pad pile and replace it with another of a different thickness.

At first, I could perhaps stand one hour at a time. I'd stand up and work until my legs and knees started complaining, then sit down until my back started hurting again. But within a few days my body was adapting and after a week I was standing up most of the day. I do need to move about a bit as I stand, and I continue to take quick walks every now and again. And I do sit down when I read stuff, or write by hand.

Now, two months on, I probably stand about 80% of the time at work. My shoulders are still stiff but my back no longer hurts. My headaches have become much less frequent too; I think that may be because I keep varying the viewing distance to the screen as I move about, rather than due to standing itself.

On my wishlist is some kind of less improvised setup. Ideally some kind of small add-on desk I can put on a normal desk like this. It'd have fully adjustable height, a laptop surface with adjustable angle, a separate mouse pad shelf and a small surface to the left for a book or things like that. And it'd have to be decently inexpensive; my employer is not likely to pick up the bill for anything like this. I may have a go at building something myself at some point, for home use if nothing else.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Typhoon #15

We chose a good week to go to Sweden, apparently. Typhoon #15 is big, mean and hitting central Honshu badly enough that places like Nagoya have issues evacuation orders for hundreds of thousands of people. I hope and wish that friends and relatives will all stay safe.

Japan is having a really bad year, isn't it. Can only hope that next year will be better; that will not be a high bar to clear.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reference Management Software

"Reference Management Software." Just listen to that noun; it's dull and dry as a bone. But, for those of you who don't know it's a hugely important tool for researchers. "Reference management" is all about being able to find research papers, to organize and sort them, and to create references for your own papers. Here's an interesting comparison of four RM systems.

For those that don't know, though, what are they and how do you use them?

Imagine, if you will, a research paper. This one, for instance, about the distribution of city sizes1. Now imagine you're working on a project on cities and stumble onto this one. It may beome in useful so you save it for later. You drop it into your reference manager — RM — software; it saves the PDF file, and records the name of the paper, the authors, the date and place of publication, when you added it, and perhaps also keywords, what webpage you got it from and other relevant information.

It's some time later and your project is picking up steam. You vaguely remember some paper about city size you saved earlier; or you're looking for all papers by Ethan Decker; or looking for any paper that mentions Zipfs law — all of which would match this paper — so you turn to your RM and use its search function to find the paper again. You could search for "Decker", or "Zipf", or "PLoS city" and get all your saved papers that match. You find the paper and look through it, and as you read you add tags and notes about the paper right in the RM itself.

It's later still and we've read a lot, done our own research and we're well on our way writing our own paper. We need to add citations to all our sources in the text, and make a bibliography at the end. How you do that varies depending on how you write. If you use Word or OpenOffice you probably use a plugin that helps you search and insert citations from your RM. If you use LaTeX (and if you write research papers you should. Really.) you can simply export all your citations into a file that LaTeX will be able to read. In either case you're saved from having to type in and format all the citations and reference list manually — if you've never done that by hand I can tell you it's long, dreary work that is hard to get right and a pain to keep up to date.

OK, but why can't you just keep the papers in a folder and just get them from there? You could, if you have just a few dozen papers. You could be more methodical and save each paper by author and title, then store in a separate folder for each journal and year. But eventually it becomes unmanageable. I have several hundred papers saved just for my current project, and there's people out there with tens of thousands of papers stored. There is no way you can remember all the relevant papers you have, never mind actually remembering any particular details about each paper.

A reference manager helps you not only store your papers. A good manager helps you get them and add all the metadata it can without your assistance. It helps you search for and find relevant papers when you need them, and lets you add comments, notes and tags to them so you can find them again and remember what they were about without having to reread them. And it helps you generate and format your citations and reference list in a consistent, correct fashion.

For what it's worth I use Zotero as my manager. It's cross-platform — it works anywhere Firefox does — and free and open to use. The review above does a pretty good job of showing its strengths and weaknesses.

What I like most about it is the ease of importing and exporting data. When you find a paper online you just click on the import icon in the browser bar and the paper and citation data is automagically downloaded and indexed. It doesn't always work; for a few sites it only collects the citation data and you have to add the PDF file yourself, but it's not a major hassle. Exporting is also really easy. I just add papers to a collection specific collection for the paper I'm writing, then export the entire collection as a BIBTex file that LaTeX can read and use. It really can't be simpler than that.

If you're a budding researcher and doesn't yet use a reference manager you really owe it to yourself to start today. Pick any one you like, of course, but I think Zotero is a good choice if you don't know which to pick.

#1 It's a neat paper, and I've been meaning to write something about it. Very shortly, they show that while larger city sizes are described well by a power law, regional and smaller communities are better described by a lognormal distribution. They show how a very simple model of human migration and reproduction can generate the real distribution of smaller communities.

It could mean that network effects — that we want to live in a city because other people do so already — only kicks in over a certain city size. Below that size the number and distribution of communities depends mostly on local random migration and reproduction patterns. Smaller communities do not inherently attract people the way larger cities do. Is the paper correct? I don't know, but it's very interesting.

Friday, September 16, 2011

(soon) On Our Way to Stockholm

The flowers have drip water, the bags are packed, a leftover pear and half a lemon awaits eating and the last load of laundry is spinning as I write. We're off to Stockholm tomorrow morning, followed by a few days at my parents' place in Borlänge. I wish I could say we'll have a week off with sightseeing and shopping; alas, my project is entering its final phase and I will have work to do in preparation for meetings and presentations the week after next1.

So while I am steeling myself for the 18 hours of airport and in-air quality time between our apartment and our hotel, I'm scheduling a post or two for the blog for next week. I hope and expect to be able to write a few things here while in Sweden, but just in case I don't it will not be completely silent around here.

#1 I envy sculptors, sometimes, especially those doing monumental works in granite or bronze. You know, the huge, heavy tasteless stuff so beloved by dictators and strongmen the world over. It may not be a very stable career, but at least you're not expected to bring your work on vacation.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Last of Summer

It's 30° here still, the trees are still all green, the rice fields are rich and full, crickets are chirping and the evenings have a golden late-summer glow. But this will change next week already, with rain and dropping temperatures forecast for Osaka.

We're going to Sweden for a week starting day after tomorrow, and there the autumn has already arrived, with temperatures in the 10-15° range and unsteady, windy weather. By the time we come back home to Osaka summer will be over here as well.

So I celebrated the end of summer today, with the last summer ice cream. Took a break for a few minutes on a sun-drenched bench outside the department, eating the ice cream and watching students pass by. Summers here are hot and uncomfortable, but moments like this are good.

Last Summer Ice
Last summer ice

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Valentino Braitenberg

Scientist Valentino Braitenberg sadly passed away a few days ago. His most public accomplishment was perhaps his book "Vehicles", where he imagined small toy vehicles on a tabletop to show how seemingly purposeful and deliberative behaviours can arise from very simple and easy to understand mechanisms.

This book introduces the idea of embodied cognition — thought processes and behaviour don't occur in isolation; they are a product of the interaction between the agent and the environment. It means, for instance, that a simple agent in its native environment will be able to do much more, and better than its own internal design could really do alone. It also means that an organism is locked to a certain range of environment and will do much worse than its true capabilities.

My favourite example is water beetles that lay their eggs in puddles and shallow ponds. The female flies around looking for a body of water, and then dives straight down into it, where it lays its eggs. Finding water from above like that would seem to be pretty complicated. In reality it merely looks for a patch of ground with strongly polarized light — like many insects their eyes have cells sensitive to the polarization — and dives into it. Complex behaviour with very little thought. Of course, today our world is full of large, strongly polarized surfaces such as car hoods and building roofs and the beetles dive right into them instead, with messy results. Behaviour that looks complex and adaptive in one situation can quickly become maladaptive when the environment changes.

This book matters to me personally too. I first read it as a teenager — it is written for laymen and really an easy, relaxing read — and it is one of the books that steered me toward science and toward my current interests of neuroscience and robotics. I know it has had a similarly huge impact on many of my friends and colleagues. I'm truly sad to hear he is gone.

Edit: Valentino Braitenberg, not "Emilio". Duh. No idea where I got "Emilio" from.

Monday, September 12, 2011


So, I'm applying for JLPT N1 again this year. And like last year I don't really stand much of a chance passing it. I'd need to sit down and really study for the test — do example tests and practice sets, review all kanji and obscure grammar and so on — and I just won't have the large blocks of free time I'd need to actually do that.

Yes, you could argue that you should be able to pass the test without preparation. A native speaker can do so without trouble after all. But the test is calibrated so you'll pass with a given competence level and with adequate preparation. If you can pass it without preparation you're either very lucky or higher level than the test is designed for. I'm neither so this year will be a practice round again.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ghost Towns

So, industry minister Hachiro Yoshio called the communities around Fukushima a "ghost town" (死の街) yesterday. Now he apologizes for doing so.

I can't imagine why. They are ghost towns, in every sense of the term1. The area is abandoned and will remain abandoned; nobody lives there, and nobody will live there for years to come. Some of those communities will be abandoned permanently. "Ghost town" seems quite apt, especially for the communities closest to the plant. Pretending that they are not, that the inhabitants will be able to return shortly and pick up their lives as before is just dishonest.

If authorities can't even describe a bad situation correctly for fear of upsetting somebody, then the chances of rectifying it is pretty close to nil. If you can't talk about problems in frank and accurate terms you can't talk about solutions either.


#1 Well, except for actual, live (err, dead) ghosts. But in every other sense they are.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Stockholm! And a Question

Yes, we're going to Stockholm week after next! It's just for a couple of days, before we move on to Borlänge and my parents, my brother, my new niece and general family business.

We'll spend those few days meeting a couple of people, walking and shopping1. We'll also spend a lot of time eating. There's one single place for ramen in Stockholm and I'd like to go there for lunch one day; it's expensive — twice the price of ramen here in Osaka — but it'd be fun to try.

Here's a question if you happen to live in Stockholm: do you know of a place that does a good Bookmaker Sandwich — and perhaps a Plankstek — in the area around the train station if possible? Preferably a pub-style place rather than a full-on restaurant. I knew of a couple of places once, but that was many years ago and not in that area.

If you know of such a place, please let us know!

#1 Shopping on travel isn't nearly as much fun as it used to be, though. Anything you can find abroad you can find on the internet as well. And many stores are huge chains that sell identical stuff in identical malls anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It Takes Two to Tango
— A Tale of Two Cameras

In late July we went on an overnight trip to Taiza on the Tango peninsula on the north coast of Kyoto. There's some nice beaches there, so we brought two single-use underwater film cameras; one from Kodak and one from Fuji. Which one is the better choice?

Tale of Two Cameras

Kodak to the left, Fuji to the right. Much the same design gestalt but the details differ.

The basic design is very similar: a single-use film camera preloaded with color negative film. A fixed-focus lens with a moderate aperture set at hyperfocal distance. A shutter, a film winding knob and an approximate viewfinder. All packed into a see-through underwater housing with a rubber-band strap.

There are differences of course. The Kodak uses 400ASA film while the Fuji uses 800ASA, and they naturally use their own film brands. A one stop difference in sensitivity shouldn't be very noticeable, but different film stock can make a real difference in overall color, grain and contrast. The lenses are different, but they're the same type of simple fixed-focus plastic lenses so the results are similar.

The shots below have been processed in much the same way: developed in the same lab at the same time, then scanned and processed by me, using the same scanner and the same semi-automatic tools I have to the best of my ability. Negative color film is (in)famous for being variable — there is no single "correct" result the way you have with slide film or digital — but each film does have its own characteristics.

Taiza Beach - Kodak Taiza beach - Fuji

The beach and cliff at Taiza. To the left Kodak, to the right Fuji. Click through for larger versions. Largest size for Kodak is here and for Fuji here.

Fuji's colors feel better to me, with less saturation, and I had to work at them less to get the images to this point. Also, the Kodak images were noticeably darker. You can clearly see bands along the top of the Kodak image; it's artefacts from my scanner (it needs a cleaning) that show up from having to brighten the image quite a lot. The Kodak uses a slower film and I suspect it also uses a smaller aperture. In combination that would be enough to make a real difference in brightness.

Center sharpness is about the same — not great, but what do you expect? Corner sharpness is much worse for the Fuji though; that would partly be explained by the difference in aperture above, as a smaller aperture gives you less corner issues.

Image quality… These are fixed-focus, fixed-shutter plastic cameras, not high-precision engineering marvels. You are not going to get precisely exposed, well-focused, high-resolution images from these. This is not the tool of choice for a cover of National Geographic. What you can hope for is a colorful A6 print that shows people what you saw, with decent detail in the center and not to badly blurred out toward the edges.

Both cameras deliver. Grain is not an issue; it is plenty finer than the resolution of each camera so you can filter it out if you want, safe in the knowledge that you're not destroying any fine detail. I happen to rather like a bit of grain so I leave it in. Overall, the Kodak seems to favour stronger blues and perhaps stronger colors in general, while Fuji tends toward warmer tones. I prefer the Fuji tones myself.

Cliff - Kodak Cliff - Fuji

Underwater shot, again with Kodak to the left and Fuji to the right. In this case the color rendering works in Kodaks favour.

The Kodak has the better lens. The Fuji may have as good or better detail in the center, but deteriorates faster toward the edges, and has more chromatic aberration. On the other hand, Kodak ended up with significantly darker images, and the brightening during scanning made for grainier, noisier images that took more effort to clean up.

The Fuji handles better than the Kodak. It has a large, responsive, easy to use lever for a shutter, while the Kodak has a small, stiff push button that doesn't really tell you when the shot is coming. The winding mechanism is solid and dependable on the Fuji, whereas the Kodak winder is creaky, shaky and feels like it could break at any moment. I missed a few shots with the Kodak since I was never completely sure whether I'd wound fully to the next frame or not. The Kodak is smaller, though, and a bit easier to hold in your hand underwater.

Small Fry

Small fry with the Fuji. There may not be any coral here, but there was a lot of marine life. Here we first thought a patch of dark seaweed had drifted into shore, but it turned out to be a dense school of small fish. Also saw some larger fish, including Fugu, but they were too fast for me and my plastic camera. I have a lot of shots of absolutely nothing to show for my efforts…

Overall, I think I prefer the Fuji, despite the better optics of the Kodak. The images were easier to scan and process, I prefer the colors and the camera handles far better, especially underwater. I was more successful getting the shots I wanted, and most of the shots I've kept come from the Fuji.

Explore The Shore

A parent and child explores the shore wildlife together. There's lots of fascinating fish, crustaceans and bugs around, and little to no dangerous wildlife so it's probably a safer place for children to poke around than Okinawa. Fuji camera.


Snorkeling. Fuji camera.



Miyazu station. A faint breeze, chirping cikadas. Slow, lazy, relaxing.

The Tango peninsula is really quite close to Kyoto and Osaka, but the trip through the mountains is slow. You take a JR-line train northwards, then change to a small local railway (in excellent comfort, it has to be said) in Toyoka that takes you through the mountains to the Japan sea coast. It's just a short distance on the map, but it feels like an entirely different world.

The overnight trip was fun, but the mood was dampened by a swimming accident. Many groups come here camping at the beach, with parties and barbecue right on the sand. A member of one group went missing, and the entire beach was cleared for a search and rescue. They only found him several hours later and the outcome was not a happy one.

Bath Time

A young couple play at the beach.


Y'r hmble correspondent indulging in his sea explorer fantasy. Notice my clever use of the mask to hide my bald spot. Picture by Ritsuko.

It is a pleasant place to spend by the sea. It's not Okinawa of course so there's no coral and far less spectacular wildlife. But both air and sea temperatures are moderate and the sandy beaches are as beautiful, with no dangerous reptiles to worry about. While the wildlife is not as showy as in the south it is just as interesting.


Many people come here camping. It's a slow, relaxing place to stay, and there's both onsen and restaurants right down the road if you tire of the rustic lifestyle.

Next time we'll go in winter. The Japan sea coast is spectacular when covered in snow, and it's the high season for crab fishing so inns and restaurants offer excellent crab. We could go for a walk in the snow, thaw out in the onsen overlooking the sea, then have a luxurious crab dinner. We'll see.


Dunes and cliffs at sunset.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Typhoon #12

So far typhoon #12 has caused 17 deaths, 54 people are missing and thousands are evacuated after heavy floods. Most of the deaths are  from the heavy rains — drownings and people getting caught in mudslides. There's more heavy rain projected, so it's likely the total damage will continue to increase. We have been fortunate that the typhoon veered off and crossed southern Honshu well west of Osaka.

It's easy to overlook typhoons — they are "only" weather after all — but the reality is that typhoons are a greater danger than earthquakes, even in earthquake-prone Japan. The potential destructive power of a single event is much greater for earthquakes of course, but typhoons are much more common.

If you live in a typhoon (or hurricane) prone area, it's a really, really good idea to look over your preparedness. It's also a good idea to keep typhoons in mind when you choose a place to live, and avoid the riskiest areas near steep hillsides and riverbanks. A mountain-side home may be very picturesque, but it's not very safe if that mountainside decides to turn into a landslide.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's Coming Straight At Us!

…Typhoon #12, that is.

Typhoons usually veer off before they hit Osaka bay, but this one seems very determined to get us. There's not much time or leeway for it to turn by now, and the projected centerline passes, as far as I can see, right over Osaka city. It'd need to veer just a little, little bit toward the east to pass right over our home, and another little bit to hit my place of work.

If it does hit us directly, the center should pass us on Saturday morning, and I'd expect some really bad weather beginning tomorrow night. I should still be able to go to work as usual tomorrow, but that depends a lot on the university; they may well decide to ask non-essential people to stay home so we don't risk getting stuck here over night with no way to get back home.

I guess we'll also have to rethink our plans of going to Kobe on Saturday. We wanted to go there in the morning, have lunch at a favourite Indian restaurant, then back to Osaka and dinner at home. Instead we'll probably just sit at home in the muggy heat, looking at the rain-soaked streets outside and being irritated at not being able to do anything. I wish this summer would just end alredy.